I get a lot of emails for this column: largely press releases, but there are also the emails that come directly from theatre makers. If they’re writing to me themselves, they’re usually young and probably broke.
Mostly, I can’t write about them: they get in touch too late; or their play doesn’t sound any good; or it’s too “niche” for a mainstream column. But, sometimes, the email hums with such energy, and there’s such obvious graft behind it, that it’s impossible to ignore. I got two of these recently.
New York-based Laoisa Sexton is bringing her play, For Love, on an all-island tour from April 5. The story of three single women in Dublin, she wrote it in an attempt “to represent young Irish women in the world.” Those women are “flawed, yes, but daring, passionate and provocative as well, out there looking for love and sex, getting hurt, with battle scars and beating hearts.” She wants For Love to be an antidote to traditional Irish plays, which, she says, “are littered with weeping widows and sacrificial virgins.”
Sexton grew up in Ennis and then Dublin. Her mother had been a dancer and teacher, but got ill when Sexton was little and was confined to the house.
“She’d be listening to Swan Lake doing the ironing and telling me the whole story.” Later, her mother would send her to matinees at the Abbey, on her own: “come home and tell me all about it,” she’d say.
The Abbey “was full of old people and old, dusty plays.” But, still, Sexton got hooked. Her mother encouraged her to apply for the Green Card lottery; when Sexton got it, she determined to go to New York to become an actor.
There, she acted in independent films, studied old Elia Kazan movies (Kazan directed Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire) and did as many classes as she could fit in a day. “I wasn’t really educated about how it all worked and no one really taught me, so I kind of found my own way.”
There was plenty of rejection along that way. “I have heard it all: ‘You’re ugly.’ ‘How did you get in the room?’ ‘We have no file for you – you don’t fit any type.’ “Guess what?” she said to herself: “F**k your filing cabinet – I don’t want to be in it!”
Inspired by the success of Tina Fey and Lena Dunham (creator and star of the HBO series, Girls), she decided to make her own work. “You can’t just be an actor these days, a gun for hire. Acting taught me to always be doing.”
For Love premiered at the 1st Irish festival in New York last year; that led to an off-Broadway run at the Irish Repertory Theatre and Sexton put together this tour with an online fundraising campaign. Next on the list is the movie of the play: they’ve already started shooting some scenes for a promo.
Patrick Collier is another young, Irish, emigrant artist making work for himself. Collier moved to London after a postgrad in drama in Oxford, and started producing plays. He worked at the Covent Garden open-air theatre and won a young producer’s bursary.
Like Sexton, he has “no time for the unquestioning reverence of old plays. Writers like Yeats make me think more of classrooms than good plays. When I see theatre, I expect to be kept entertained.”
He now works with Theatre Témoin (theatre of witness), and is currently bringing them around Ireland with The Fantasist, an Edinburgh festival hit that uses puppets to explore bipolar disorder.
“It seems New York is all about taking things into your own hands,” Laoisa Sexton says. But it’s not just New York: this generation of theatre makers is having to make its own work, wherever they find themselves. We’re lucky that, in these two cases, we’ll get a chance to see it.
For Love plays Derry, Belfast, Waterford, Ballymun, Clontarf and Galway, from April 5 to May 8. See facebook.com/ForLovetheplay.
The Fantasist is in Galway next Wednesday, then Wexford and Drogheda, and finishes in Bray on March 27. See www.theatretemoin.com.
Published in the Irish Independent.